St. Peter’s Episcopal Church announces services for Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter

St. Peter’s, the red shingled-style church at 11 White Street in Rockland, between the Library and the playground welcomes all to its important upcoming services.

Holy Week is the last week in Lent and is so important in our tradition that it merits some explanation. The theme of Holy Week is Jesus’ passion: his suffering and death on the cross for our salvation. It can thus seem a rather grim week, and many will be tempted to move directly to Easter – but the rites of Holy Week are at the very heart of the Christian year and, indeed, at the heart of our Christian faith. For many of us, they are the most meaningful and life-changing services of the church.

The services of Holy Week are ancient, growing out of the practices of pilgrims who poured into Jerusalem to celebrate their Easter baptisms and who visited the sites connected with the days leading up to Jesus’ death. With prayer, dramatic readings of the story associated with the place, the singing of hymns and symbolic action, the pilgrims experienced afresh the events of Jesus’ passion. At St. Peter’s, Holy Week services do the same thing. Here’s what you can expect.

Palm Sunday (March 25, 8:00am, 10:30am, and 5:30pm): This service begins by recounting Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem accompanied by shouts of “hosanna” and the waving of palm branches. At the 10:30 service, weather permitting, we will gather in the Parish Hall where palms will be blessed and distributed and then process around the neighborhood, singing hymns that retell the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Back in the church and halfway through the Palm Sunday service the mood of the day shifts dramatically. Indeed, Palm Sunday is also known as “Passion Sunday” because we hear, in a dramatic reading, the narrative of Jesus’ last supper, his betrayal by Judas, arrest, torture and crucifixion.

Wednesday Evening Tenebrae (March 28, 5:30pm): a service of readings and choral meditations on Christ’s passion. This dramatic service is marked by the extinguishing of candles after each set of readings with music, so that the lights dim until, representing Jesus’ death, we are in complete darkness. (Tenebrae means “shadows” or “darkening”). After the tolling of the mourning bell, the service concludes as a Christ candle is returned – a sign of our hope for the Easter to come, and all depart in silence.

Maundy Thursday (March 29, 5:30pm): The name comes from the Latin mandatum, the root of our English word “mandate” or “command”. It refers to the new commandment to “love one another” (John 13:34) that Jesus gave his disciples after he had washed their feet on the Thursday of his final week in Jerusalem. Tonight we move through Jesus’ final evening with his disciples, beginning with the Passover meal, through his anguished prayer in the garden of Gethsemane to his betrayal and arrest. Our liturgy highlights many of these key moments. We, too, will be invited to wash one another’s feet as a sign of our willingness to follow Jesus’ mandate to love one another. We will recall the last supper in which Jesus instituted Holy Communion on the night before he died by doing as he commanded: do this for the remembrance of me. The service concludes with a dramatic stripping of the altar: the lights in the sanctuary dim gradually as clergy and acolytes, now dressed in black, remove all altar hangings, candles, vessels and appointments until the altar area is completely bare, at which time the sanctuary becomes completely dark. Those who wish to wait with Christ as the disciples were asked to do at Gethsemane can move to the chapel, which will have been transformed into a garden. You can say a prayer, sit and meditate with the body of Christ, represented in your fellow silent worshippers and in the reserved sacrament stored there. Many people find such silent prayer to be deeply moving.

Good Friday (March 30, 12:00pm & 5:30pm): On this day the church commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus. At St. Peter’s there will be services at both noon and at 5:30 in the evening. The noon service is a service of prayer, contemplation and reflection called Stations of the Cross. Worshippers walk the way of the cross that is depicted on the image/stations on the walls of our sanctuary. This is an ancient practice that slows us down to walk with Jesus on his last day of life. The evening service is a traditional Good Friday Liturgy. The clergy and acolytes are dressed in black and enter in silence and, though the mood is somber, the Good Friday liturgy is not a funeral. We remember Jesus’ suffering and death while celebrating the victory over death he has won for us now. The liturgy has three distinctive parts. The first is a liturgy of the Word in which we hear a passion gospel and pray a series of intercessions called the Solemn Collects. The second part of the service is the Veneration of the Cross – all are invited to come near to a large wooden cross to pray. It concludes with Eucharist from the reserved sacrament from Maundy Thursday evening, after which all remaining communion sacrament is returned to the earth and the sanctuary candle is extinguished, not to be lit again until after the first Eucharist of Easter.

The Great Vigil of Easter (March 31, 7:00pm): This is the first celebration of Easter and is among the most ancient of the liturgies we have. It begins on the night before Easter Day and, despite the late hour, the Vigil can be a wonderful service for older children because it is the epitome of “hands-on” liturgy with wonderful contrasting symbols of darkness and light, quiet reflection and loud rejoicing. There are four main parts to this service the first three of which are done in darkness, lit only by candlelight: a ritual of light in which we light the new fire and paschal candle, a liturgy of the Word when we listen to Scripture readings highlighting God’s saving plan for humanity and, thirdly, baptize new initiates to the faith and renew our own baptismal vows. Then, we come to a turning point in the service as we end the season of Lent and begin the first Eucharist of Easter. The proclamation is made: “Alleluia. Christ is risen!” and the people respond “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!” at which time we enter brilliant light: candles on the altar are lit, the electric lights are turned on, and we begin to sing, ring bells, shake tambourines and other handheld instruments. The joyful contrast to Lent is unmistakable and as you blink in the light and sing the familiar song of praise you will no doubt see smiles of amazement on the faces around you. This is a moment when we glimpse a bit of heaven and can believe again that the Good News is indeed true after all. This year St. Peter’s is hosting our area celebration; joining in are the congregations of St. John Baptist (Thomaston), St. Thomas (Camden), and Nativity Lutheran (Rockport). Our preacher for the evening is the Rev. Lisa Smith Fry from St. Thomas’ Camden.

Easter Day (April 1, 9:00): This is the most important and quintessential Christian feast. The primary theme is the resurrection: on this day Jesus was raised from the dead, overcoming the power of death and the grave. And all subsequent Sundays, including those in Lent, are but small remembrances of this greatest day. Come, wear your Easter finery and celebrate our Lord’s resurrection and the promise of our own! Immediately following the service, we will hold our traditional Easter brunch, a marvelous time of parish fellowship. At mid-morning, parishioners from St. Peter’s join our friends from Adas Yoshuron Synagogue by hosting at St. Peter’s the Easter Egg Hunt and joining in preparing the Easter Community Meal.

Going to church every Sunday can be a quite a commitment for many families with busy schedules, and the prospect of going on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday as well can seem overwhelming. But the rites of Holy Week are our most sacred and meaningful. You will not regret making room in your calendar for some if not all of these services.

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